Minister of Culture: The Black Panther Party

Portrait of Emory Douglas by    Bryan Shih.
Portrait of Emory Douglas by Bryan Shih.

B. 1943 (age 77) Michigan, USA.

Emory Douglas was Minister of Culture at The Black Panther Party for the duration of its active years – 1966 to 1982.

The distinctive visual look of the Black Panther Party was as a result of the creative direction of Douglas – and that’s a BIG achievement because their visual game was strong.

His distinctive, stylised graphics and printed-poster-art aesthetic helped a message to be quickly understood. It perfectly complemented the parties bold and clear communiques highlighting the struggle of African-Americans with regards to structural and institutional racism, the fight not being in Vietnam but in their US homeland, police brutality, oppression and inequality. 

Their posters, pamphlets and newspaper The Black Panther – of which Douglas was Art Director – became the party’s most powerful and effective weapon, the newspaper selling 300,000 copies a week at its peak in 1970. 

It was protest-art and his work served the parties program of armed-activism and revolution: their ‘plot for progress’. 

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Although pre-1969 the party advocated masculinity and traditional gender roles, this soon changed and women took leadership too. Everyone was active and in turn, depicted in his work as bad-ass icons against sunburst motifs, their regulation Remington shotgun either at their side or leading the charge. The whole community – including the elderly and children – took a starring role – it was an egalitarian movement and art approach. 

The dissemination of their printed material, via their state Chapters, was a well-oiled campaign and these creative outputs soon facilitated a coherent and consistent voice that rang loud and clear across the United States. 

It was instantly recognisable. NOTHING looked or sounded like The Black Panther Party – nor has it since. 

The spirit, ideology and culture of the Black Panther Party is kept alive today by the graphics Emory Douglas created. A visual archive of a moment in time and a spirit – and struggle – that still endures; in the words of The Black Panther Party itself: 

SEIZE THE TIME. 

REVOLUTION IN OUR LIFETIME.  

Photos taken from the pop-up exhibition: Beyond the Streets by Roger Gastman, NYC 2019.

Minister of Culture: The Black Panther Party